True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

True Freshman Christian Hackenberg Impressive in First Win for PSU

Bill O’Brien had a difficult decision to make on his quarterbacks entering his second season as Penn State’s head football coach. With Matt McGloin graduated and off to the NFL (McGloin made the Raiders, by the way – although that may just be a sad statement about the state of the Raiders), it was down to junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson or blue-chip recruit Christian Hackenberg. While Ferguson was probably a bit more seasoned of the two, O’Brien went with the talented true freshman.

How’s that working out? So far, so good, as the Nittany Lions were able to hold off the Orange 23-17 to kick off their 2013 campaign.

Hackenberg got off to a bit of a slow start in his first collegiate game. Playing in front of a noticeably pro-PSU crowd at the Meadowlands, Hackenberg seemed limited initially by both the speed of the game and what was perhaps a conventional game plan. He was without his best target in junior Allen Robinson for the first half as well, suspended for disciplinary reasons that are yet to be revealed. Once Robinson got on the field though, the fireworks started. The shackles came off of Hackenberg, and the offense started gaining yards in bunches.

Hackenberg connected on 22 of 31 pass attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns, one of those coming on a 51-yard catch-and-run by Robinson, the other a picture perfect 54-yard bomb down the middle to Geno Lewis. The young QB did make some mistakes, specifically the two interceptions he hurled, one of which set up the Orange at the 1-yard line with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter – Syracuse would cut the deficit to six there, giving them a chance to take the lead late. Otherwise, not bad for a first start.

Robinson appeared to be a big reason for the leap in Hackenberg’s performance. Although the freshman connected on his first six passes, they went for a grand total of 36 yards, and his first two drives stalled. Ferguson briefly got in the game, but was sacked and fumbled, which was the end of that. Hackenberg still had trouble maintaining consistent drives, and Penn State went into the locker room with just six points.

Enter Robinson, who caught passes of 24 yards and the 51-yard score on the opening two plays of the second half. He wound up finished with seven receptions for 133 yards in one half of football, although he did have a costly fumble. Still, the kid clearly has NFL talent.

Overall it was a promising sign for the future of Penn State, at least as far as under center is concerned. The fact that they needed 60 minutes to close out ‘Cuse is a little troubling in terms of how the team will fare this season, although with no postseason hopes in their second year of sanctions I suppose that takes some of the emphasis on wins and losses. This Hackenberg kid might be for real though, which could lead to some big seasons down the road if he continues to develop and mature. We’re looking forward to watching that.

>> BOX SCORE [ESPN]

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).